The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Political corruption

This article is about political corruption. For other uses, see Corruption (disambiguation)

In broad terms, political corruption is the misuse of public office for private gain. All forms of government are susceptible in practice to political corruption. Degrees of corruption vary greatly, from minor uses of influence and patronage to do and return favours, to institutionalised bribery and beyond. The end-point of political corruption is kleptocracy, literally rule by thieves, where even the external pretence of honesty is abandoned.

Corruption arises in both political and bureaucratic offices and can be petty or grand, organized or unorganized. Though corruption often facilitates criminal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and prostitution, it is not restricted to these activities. For purposes of understanding the problem and devising remedies, it is important to keep crime and corruption analytically distinct.

Depending on the country or jurisdiction, what constitutes or does not constitute corruption may differ. For instance, certain political funding practices that are legal in one place may be illegal in another.


Conditions favorable for corruption

  • Concentration of power in decisionmakers not directly accountable to the people as often seen in non-democratic regimes.
  • Lack of government transparency in decisionmaking.
  • Costly political campaigns, with expenses exceeding normal sources of political funding.
  • Large amounts of public capital involved in a project.
  • Self-interested closed cliques and "old-boy" networks.
  • Weak rule of law.
  • Weak legal profession.
  • Minimal freedom of speech or freedom of the press.
  • Poorly-paid government officials.
  • Apathetic, uninterested, or gullible populace that fails to give adequate attention to political processes.
  • Absence of adequate controls to prevent bribery or so-called "campaign donations."

Negative effects


Corruption poses a serious development challenge. In the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance by subverting formal processes. Corruption in elections and in legislative bodies reduces accountability and representation in policymaking; corruption in the judiciary suspends the rule of law; and corruption in public administration results in the unequal provision of services. More generally, corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government as procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and officials are hired or promoted without regard to performance. At the same time, corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and such democratic values as trust and tolerance.

The economy

Corruption also undermines economic development by generating considerable distortions and inefficiency. In the private sector, corruption increases the cost of business through the price of illicit payments themselves, the management cost of negotiating with officials, and the risk of breached agreements or detection. Although some claim corruption reduces costs by cutting red tape, an emerging consensus holds that the availability of bribes induces officials to contrive new rules and delays. Where corruption inflates the cost of business, it also distorts the playing field, shielding firms with connections from competition and thereby sustaining inefficient firms.

Corruption also generates economic distortions in the public sector by diverting public investment into capital projects where bribes and kickbacks are more plentiful. Officials may increase the technical complexity of public sector projects to conceal such dealings, thus further distorting investment. Corruption also lowers compliance with construction, environmental, or other regulations; reduces the quality of government services and infrastructure; and increases budgetary pressures on government.

General national welfare

Political corruption is widespread in many countries, and represents a major obstacle to the well-being of the citizens of those countries. Political corruption means that government policies tend to benefit the givers of the bribes, not the country. Another example is how politicians would draft laws that protect large corporations while at the same time hurt small businesses. These "pro business" politicians are simply returning favoures to those same large corporations which heavily contributed towards their election campaingn.

Even in countries where national politics is relatively honest, political corruption is often found in regional politics. (See Maricopa County, Arizona)

Types of abuse

Political corruption encompasses abuses by government officials such as embezzlement and nepotism, as well as abuses linking public and private actors such as bribery, extortion, influence peddling, and fraud.

Bribery: Bribe-takers and bribe-givers

Corruption needs two parties to be corrupt: the bribe giver and the bribe taker. In some countries the culture of corruption extends to every aspect of public life, making it more or less impossible to stay in business without giving bribes.

The most common bribe-giving countries are not in general the same as the most common bribe-taking countries.

The 12 least corrupt countries, according to the Transparency International perception survey, 2001, are (in alphabetical order):

Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland

According to the same survey, the 12 most corrupt countries are (in alphabetical order):

Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cameroon, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine

However, the value of that survey is disputed, since it is based on the subjective perceptions of the polled individuals.

"Campaign contributions" and soft money

It is easy to prove corruption, but difficult to prove its absence. For this reason, there are often rumours about many politicians.

Politicians are placed in apparently compromising positions because of their need to solicit financial contributions for their campaigns. Often, they then appear to be acting in the interests of those parties that fund them, giving rise to talk of political corruption.

Supporters of politicians assert that it is entirely coincidental that many politicians appear to be acting in the interests of those who fund them. Cynics wonder why these organizations fund politicians at all, if they get nothing for their money? It should be noted that in the United States firms, especially large ones, often fund all major parties, though most of them favor one party over the other.

Because of the implications of corporations funding politicians, such as the perceived threat that these corporations are simply buying the votes of elected officials, certain countries, such as France, ban altogether the corporate funding of political parties. Because of the possible circumvention of this ban with respect to the funding of political campaigns, France also imposes maximal spending caps on campaigning; candidates that have exceeded those limits, or that have handed misleading accounting reports, risk being declared to have lost the election, or even be prevented from running in future elections. In addition, the government funds political parties according to their successes in elections.

Charges of corruption as a political tool

Oftentimes, politicians may seek to taint their opponents with charges of corruption. In the People's Republic of China, this phenomenon was used by Zhu Rongji, and most recently, by Hu Jintao to weaken their political opponents.

See also

Forms or aspects of corruption

Good governance

Theoretical aspects

Examples of Corruption

External links

Last updated: 10-24-2005 16:58:11
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